Saturday, July 2, 2011

No Place to Write: The James Thane Interview

Today's guest is James Thane, all round cool guy and author of No Place to Die.

What was the inspiration behind No Place to Die?
This is something of a long and convoluted story, but the essence is that I was at an author’s event in Phoenix when the woman hosting the event made a chance remark that got me to thinking about the possibility of setting a crime novel in a neighborhood just south of downtown Phoenix. I thus had the setting first and my challenge was to find a story that would fit into it. The idea then popped into my head that someone might be kidnapped and held captive in one of the deteriorating houses in this neighborhood, and with that the story was off and running.

How was your experience dealing with Dorchester? They've caught a lot of flack in recent weeks.
I had a really good experience with Dorchester on this book. I had a great editor, Don D’Auria, who, sadly, is no longer there. The other people I worked with were also very good. All the turmoil there began just after No Place To Die appeared, when Dorchester decided to stop publishing mass market books in favor of e-books and trade paperbacks.

Before that happened, they had accepted my second book, Until Death, and Don and I had begun working on it. Dorchester’s reorientation scuttled their original plan, which was to publish the book in a mass market edition in May, 2011. They are now going to publish it as an e-book, an audio book and as a trade paperback in December. At the same time, they will release a new edition of No Place To Die in trade paperback. In the meantime, print copies of No Place To Die have become a bit scarce, but it is still available as an e-book in most formats.

Like a lot of other Dorchester authors, I’m hoping that the reorganization will resurrect the company’s fortunes, and at least from my perspective, the plan seems to be working thus far.

Will there be more Sean Richardson in the future?
Yes, there will. Until Death features Sean Richardson, Maggie McClinton, and several other characters from the first book in a new story that takes place three months after the conclusion of No Place To Die. The book I’m working on now is a stand-alone that does not have room for Sean, but I hope to return to the character after that.

If there was going to be a No Place to Die movie, who would you want playing Sean Richardson?
I think I’m going to duck this one. This is a question you often hear at author events, and I always cringe when the author answers it by naming an actor. When I’m reading a book, I create an image in my mind of what a character looks like, especially when the author has described the character only very generally. Once I do so, I tend to become wedded to that image and I hate it when the author comes along later, outside the context of the book, and tells me what the character should look like.

However, once someone actually makes a movie from a book I’ve enjoyed, the actor’s image usually preempts my own from that point on, especially if I liked the movie. A good example is Matthew McConaughey as Mickey Haller in The Lincoln Lawyer. McConaughey looks nothing like the image of the character I had developed in my own mind, but I really enjoyed the movie and I’m sure that, from now on, whenever I read one of Michael Connelly’s Mickey Haller books, I will see McConaughey as Mickey.

We're both fans of the Hard Case Crime series. Which one would you say was your favorite?
Oh, you would have to ask a really hard question like this! You’ve read more of these than I, but of the ones I have read, I would probably pick either Money Shot, by Christa Faust, or Songs of Innocence, by Richard Aleas. (Or maybe Lemons Never Lie, by Donald Westlake.) A sentimental favorite would be Top of the Heap, by A. A. Fair (Erle Stanley Gardner). My father was a huge fan of Gardner’s and as a young child I got hooked on crime fiction by reading the paperback editions of these books that my father had accumulated and left in our cabin at the lake.

Was there a book that made you realize you wanted to be a writer?
No, I don’t think there was any one particular book. From the time I was a small child, I’ve always been a voracious reader and at some point when I was in the third or fourth grade, it struck me that it would really be a lot of fun to be the person who was writing the book as well as the person who was reading it. Once the idea popped into my mind, I was hooked.

Now that I am a writer, what actually happens is something along the reverse of what you suggested. Occasionally I’ll read a book that I really love, like Don Winslow’s The Power of the Dog, or more recently, Stuart Neville’s The Ghosts of Belfast. And when I finish a book like that, I will often put it down and wonder what in the world I’m doing trying to write books when I’ll never be able to write something as good as the one I’ve just finished.

Who are some of your influences?
I assume that, like any other writer, I’m influenced at least to some extent by every other author I read—even the bad ones. I try not to consciously imitate any other writer, but I love people like Lawrence Block, T. Jefferson Parker, Don Winslow, Michael Connelly, Lee Child, Robert Crais, and James Lee Burke. Certainly they’ve all had some affect on my own efforts, at least subconsciously.

What's your favorite book?
Oh, another tough one. Like most avid readers, I think it would be awfully hard to select just one. But if I had to, I’d probably pick A River Runs Through It, by the late Norman Maclean. This might be something of a surprise since it is not a crime novel, but Maclean wrote beautifully about Montana, which is my native state, and this book is a classic. I keep coming back to it every couple of years or so.

Who's your favorite author?
Lawrence Block—an easy choice—principally because he’s written so many books that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. As I suggested above, I became addicted to crime fiction at a tender age, and Block has created my favorite series character of all in Matthew Scudder. I’ve loved watching Scudder evolve through the years, along with the rest of the cast with which Block has populated Scudder’s world. I’ve read the series from beginning to end several times now, and yet I still always look forward to pulling one off the shelf and reading it again.

What's the best book you've read in the last six months?
The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville. It’s a book that’s beautifully imagined and even more beautifully written. Second place by a whisker would be The Creed of Violence, by Boston Teran.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
Write. And read. A lot.

I’ve attended a number of writers’s conferences in the last few years and it strikes me that an awful lot of would-be writers spend a great deal of time thinking about the book they’d like to write and studying how to write, rather than actually writing. If you’re really going to be a writer, there comes a time when you need to just plant yourself in the chair and actually do it.

Also, I never cease to be amazed by the number of people who aspire to be writers but who don’t actually read—not even in the genre in which they would like to write. I think that if you’re going to be a writer—especially if your are going to write genre fiction—you need to read widely. Conferences and books about writing can be invaluable for teaching you about the business of writing, but the truth is that you can learn a lot more about writing from reading other writers, both good and bad, than you can by attending conferences and reading how-to books.

What's next for James L. Thane?
As I said above the second Sean Richardson novel, Until Death, will be published in December. I’m now working on a third novel, and in the best of all possible worlds, I’d continue to write one book a year and read about a hundred and fifty others…

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